The old man sat quietly on his back deck, reflecting on the day. He’d had a big few days actually but today was the hardest, and he was sad.
He remembered back to the day he went to pick his chickens. There they were running around in a ladies back yard. She’d bred them from little eggs, fertilising them, keeping them warm and watching them, one by one, crack open as each new baby chicken hatched into life.
She’d then raised them until they were ready to be re-homed which is when the old man went to buy six chicken from her.
He’d taken the little boy from next door with him, Teddy.
Teddy loved animals and he always said ‘hi’ to the old man – even though he was old and sometimes cranky, ok he was cranky a lot.
Teddy had seen the old man building his chicken run and asked him, curiously, ‘what are you doing?’
‘I’m building a chicken run, for the chickens I’m getting.’ The old man said.
Teddy was so excited, his face lit up and he said ‘Really!’ In his bright, cheery voice. ‘Can I hold them?’ Teddy asked.
The old man looked at Teddy. In his mind he thought ‘bar hum bug, children are exhausting,’ but this one was ok.
‘I guess so.’ He said, and then turned back to keep working.
‘When are you getting them?’ Teddy asked.
‘What?’ The old man looked confused.
‘The chickens silly.’ Teddy laughed at the old man.
‘Oh, right.’ The old man was back on track with the conversation. ‘Ummm, next weekend. I’m going to pick them up.’
‘Can I come?’ Teddy asked. All excited and buzzing at the idea of having chickens next door! Teddy really wanted chickens for himself, but he hadn’t successfully convinced his parents – yet. ‘I could come over every day and pat them.’ Teddy thought.
The old man had the same idea, ‘he’s going to want to come and see them – all – the – time. Hmmmm maybe I don’t want chickens, because I don’t want kids visiting!’ He thought.
The old man didn’t want the conversation to continue but he wondered what Teddy meant by ‘can I come?’
‘Come where?’ Asked the old man.
‘To pick the chickens.’ He said. ‘I could help you, and pick the best chickens for you.’
He watched the old man, he didn’t appear to think it was a good idea. ‘I’d be really good at it, and chickens are fast, I can grab them really quick!! The exact ones you want.’ Teddy said.
He had a point there. The old man wasn’t fast at all and he was just going to tell the lady which ones he wanted, but what if she told him to get them himself? The old man looked away and grumbled something.
Teddy couldn’t understand him.
‘What’d you say?’ Teddy asked.
The old man looked at Teddy, ‘hmmmm.’ He said in a frown. ‘You’d have to ask your parents.’ The old man hoped Teddy’s parents would say no.
‘Ok’ Teddy said excitedly, and ran off.
‘Mum said it’s ok, I can come – how good is that!’ Teddy declared at the fence.
The old man didn’t hear him and continued working on his chicken run. Lost in his own world, but perhaps it was more – he was feeling sore from getting up and down all the time as he was building it. His body wasn’t used to this physical labour.
‘Mum said I can come!’
The old man got the fright of his life. He fell onto his bottom, landing in the mud, that splashed everywhere. He managed to put his hand on his heart and shouted ‘AGGGHHHHH!’
Teddy jumped back, scared himself from the old man’s reaction but then smiled, realising the old man didn’t hear him come into his backyard.
Teddy had climbed over the fence when the old man didn’t respond. He was so keen to tell the old man that he could go with him to pick up his chickens that he wanted to let him know straight away, but he didn’t mean to scare him.
‘It’s just me silly.’ Teddy said to the old man, laughing.
‘Well young man, I wasn’t expecting anyone to be in my backyard, so it frightened me!’
‘I know, I can see that.’ Teddy said. ‘Can I help you up?’
The old man shook his head, indicating no, and slowly rolled onto all fours, then, slowly, climbed back up. ‘Oh, I’m sore,’ the old man thought.
‘So what’re you doing here?’ The old man asked Teddy.
Teddy’s smile got even larger as he declared, ‘Mum said I can come with you next weekend to get the chickens, we just need to let her know what time we’re going.’
‘Oh WE need to let her know when WE’RE doing it, do WE?’ The old man really emphasised the WE because he was shocked. He’d gone from doing something for himself, getting the chickens, to now having a partner, a ‘we’ so to speak. He didn’t know about that.
‘Yeah, she said we don’t have anything on next weekend, so I can help you go and get them, and then I can help you get them settled. I can stay and play with them.’ Teddy was so excited, he couldn’t stop talking. ‘I could even sleep the night if you needed someone to sleep with them, I’m a good sleeper you know….’ Teddy realised what he’d said and stopped to think.
If he was going to sleep over, he’d need to not sleep, but rather be the watcher of the chickens, like their body guard, so nothing happened to them. He wondered if he’d have to be in the chicken run with them.
He looked at the chicken run, hmmmm he could bring his swag, that would do the trick. He hadn’t slept outside by himself before though, but he could do it for the chickens. Not that he was going to sleep but he’d want to be comfortable. He’d get his Dad to help him set up his swag, have dinner with is Mum and Dad and then come over the fence to sleep.
He wondered if it would be too scary. ‘Hmmmm maybe’ he thought. His hand wandered up to his shirt collar, and he started to fidget with it.
Then, looking up at the old man, he said, ’Maybe I shouldn’t sleep over, but I can come back the next day and look after them – all day, I can do that.’ Teddy shook his head up and down, reaffirming that he could definitely spend the whole day with them.
The old man was shaking his head. He couldn’t think of anything worse. He was regretting his decision to get the chickens but he really wanted them and he’d done all this work, building the chicken coup and now the chicken run, and his muscles were very sore.
‘Listen young man.’ The old man said. ‘You can come to pick the chickens with me. I think you’d be very helpful in picking the right chickens and you’d be faster than me when they’re running around. They’ll be little, so they won’t be living in here right away. They’ll live in a little box in my laundry until they’re big enough to come out here. So you can come over, maybe once a week to have a little play with them.’ The old man didn’t want to over commit, because frankly, he didn’t want the boy over here at all. ‘How about we start there?’
‘Hmmmm.’ Teddy thought about what the old man said. He wanted to go with the old man to pick up the chickens and then, even though the old man said he could come over once a week, maybe he’d forget about that and if he was really helpful for the old man, he might be able to come over every day to play with the chickens. Teddy smiled, he knew what to say.
‘Sounds good to me!’
‘Ok next Saturday at 9am, we’re leaving. If you’re here at 9.01am, you’ll have missed me because 9am is 9am – got it?’
‘Yes, 9am next Saturday, I’ll be here.’ Teddy’s eyes were so bright, he had the biggest smile on his face and he knew he’d be there on time, actually he was going to be early. Teddy ran on home to put his alarm on, yelling out ‘see you next Saturday!’ He was going to make sure he was ready by 8.30am and at the old man’s door by 8.50am, he was going to be early, he wasn’t missing this!
Knock, knock, knock. The old man heard a knock on the door. ‘Bugger, he remembered.’ The old man thought.
He walked over to his front door, opening it.
‘Hi, I’m ready to go.’ Teddy smiled at the old man.
‘Hmmmm, you’re early, well you better come in.’ He said to Teddy.
Teddy hadn’t been inside the old man’s home before. He wandered quietly into the old man’s kitchen.
‘Nice home.’ Teddy said politely to the old man. Teddy was nervous. He didn’t know where to stand at the old man’s house and when he was nervous he fidgeted with his hands and was more reactive than normal, especially with new noises and smells.
‘It’s alright.’ The old man said, referring to his home, grabbing his wallet and car keys. ‘Since you’re here early, let’s get going.’
‘Great.’ Teddy said. Anything to be outside and on the way!
They walked out the old man’s front door together, Teddy holding the door open for the old man. Teddy was polite like that. He’d do it for his Mum who was often holding bags and water bottles when they left and then coming back into the house with groceries and more bags. It was his way of helping.
‘Hmmmmm’ the old man was perplexed, ‘what kid does that?’ He thought, shaking his head.
‘Get in.’ He said nodding and pointing to his Ranger.
Teddy climbed into the front seat. He was shocked, the car was really clean, not what Teddy expected for a man who worked outside all day.
‘You all right?’ The old man said, looking at Teddy’s shocked face.
‘Yeah.’ Teddy smiled and clicked in his seatbelt.
‘Ok, the drive will take about 20 minutes.’
‘Ok.’ Teddy smiled again at the old man.
Teddy was really excited. He’d never picked out chickens before, but he knew they were cute, soft and cuddly. He really, really, really wanted some, but his parents wouldn’t let him. This was the next best thing.
They barely spoke the whole way there. Teddy was just watching what was going on outside the car, the cattle they passed, the burnt trees and even some horses.
‘They’re big.’ Teddy said when he saw the horses, they looked ginormous to Teddy.
‘They’re Shires, I think. You won’t see many around here but they’re the tallest horses you can find, and yes, they’re big!’ The old man said.
Teddy’s mouth fell wide open because he’d never heard the old man talked that much to him, ever, about anything, he knew stuff. Teddy’s eye’s lit up, ‘this is cool,’ he thought.
Teddy’s hand moved up to the collar of his shirt, while he thought about what to ask the old man next.
‘Ok, that’s enough talk.’ The old man said, ‘we’re here.’
Teddy climbed out of the car, his excitement levels went through the roof. He was trying to play it cool but he was sooooo excited.
Teddy started walking towards the front door, when the old man said, ‘Hey, the chickens are in the backyard, let’s go this way.’
‘Ok’ Teddy said. Teddy was so used to going to the front door, he’d never go into someone’s backyard without being invited, well except for the old man’s, he didn’t count, Teddy knew the old man.
As they entered the backyard there were chickens everywhere, Teddy was in heaven!
‘Ohhhh, they’re soooo cute.’ Teddy said as he ran towards the chickens, and they scattered off, squawking, into hidden corners so Teddy couldn’t catch them.
‘Damn they are fast.’ The old man thought as he watched them run away.
‘Hello.’ A lady called out from further in the backyard.
Teddy looked up, smiled and waved, ‘hello.’ He said.
‘Hello.’ The old man said. ‘We’re here to pick up some chickens.’
‘Great, I’m Martha, how many chickens do you want?’
‘6,’ The old man said.
Martha, held her hands out wide and said ‘choose away.’
The old man looked down at Teddy, who had the biggest grin on is face as he watched all the chickens in front of him.
‘Well, you’re up! Get the small, quiet ones.’
Teddy shook his head, acknowledging what the old man said and ran over to pick up his first chicken, but they all ran away from him, he couldn’t catch them.
The old man laughed, ‘slowly, walk slowly.’ He said to Teddy.
Then he turned to Martha and said, ‘They’re all girls right?’
‘Yes they are.’ Martha said with a smile.
The old man had a big box for the chickens to go in, he opened the lid and as Teddy brought each chicken back to him, he’d nod at Teddy if it could go in, or shake his head if he thought they could do better.
The first chicken Teddy caught, and brought back to the old man, was small, fluffy, brown and white colouring, and happily sat in Teddy’s hands.
‘What about this one?’ Teddy said to the old man.
Teddy put her into the box, through the hole at the top. She walked around the box, looking out for her friends, but as soon as Teddy arrived with the second one, which the old man agreed to, she nestled down with the other chicken and was happy.
The third chicken Teddy brought back was struggling and fighting in his hands. Teddy got scratched by the chickens feet and immediately dropped the chicken.
‘Oh no.’ Teddy said, looking sadly up to the old man. Teddy looked down at his hands and saw a red scratch mark from the chicken but no blood, he was ok.
‘That’s not the one we want Teddy, she was a bit too noisy! See those ones over there.’ The old man pointed to a couple of chickens that were stilling quietly in the soil, ‘They’re the ones we want.’
Teddy walked over slowly and quietly and was able to pick up two chickens – ‘WOW two!’ He thought. He brought them back to the old man who nodded and then Teddy, smiling, put them in the box.
‘Ok, two more.’ The old man said.
‘Ok.’ Teddy said, looking up at the old man with his big, excited smile on his face.
Teddy walked back to where he’d gotten the last two chickens but they quickly ran away. Thinking about how he’d gotten the last chickens, he stood still and watched them for a moment and then he saw one chicken standing by herself. She was brown in colour with flecks of cream and the tips of her feathers made a diamond on her back.
Teddy walked slowly over to her, talking to her the whole time.
‘Hello little chicken.’ He smiled at her. ‘Would you like to come home with me?’
The little chicken turned to walk away but Teddy quickly bent down and scooped her up in his arms. She didn’t mind, fluffing her feathers and then nestling into his hands.
Teddy smiled, she was his favourite.
Teddy walked her over to the box, looking up at the old man he said, ‘I’m going to call her Floppy, she’s my favourite.’
‘Righto then.’ The old man chuckled.
Teddy put her into the box gently and went off to find his final chicken.
Teddy had so much fun picking which chickens to come home with them that he didn’t want to leave, so he took his time and the old man noticed.
‘Come on you, we just need one more chicken.’ He said, trying to hurry Teddy along.
The chickens were running away from Teddy, and they were going down behind their chicken run, where Teddy couldn’t fit. He slowed down to watch them again and then he saw a group of little chickens off to the side. He wanted to take them all, but he knew he could only take one.
There was one that was more cream than brown, that’s the one he wanted. Instead of going directly for her, which had caused all the chickens to run before, he went to the other side, causing them to bunch up on the chicken fence and he could reach in gently and pick her up.
She was super fluffy and so soft. She even looked up at him and chirped. Teddy was in love.
He walked her over to the box and said to the old man ‘I’m going to call this one Fluffy, and she’s my first favourite, Floppy’s my second favourite.’
‘Ok then.’ The old man said laughing and raising his eyebrows, ‘this kids interesting’ he thought.
The old man paid Martha. Then picked up the box of chickens and put them in the back seat. Teddy climbed into the back seat next to them, pulling on his seat belt.
The old man looked at him, curiously.
‘Someone’s got to look after them.’ Teddy said, nodding at the old man with his serious face.
The old man chuckled, ‘of course they do!’
The whole way home Teddy talked to the chickens, telling them all about their new home and how much they were going to love it. That he would visit them regularly (he didn’t say how often because he didn’t want the old man to get cranky) and how cute they were.
All the chickens sat quietly, nestled in together. They were happy they were on their way to their new home.
When they arrived home the old man attempted to send Teddy home.
‘Well thanks for your help, I’ve got it from here.’ He smiled at Teddy.
Teddy hadn’t expected that, and he was a bit shocked, but he recovered quickly, saying to the old man, ‘You’re so welcome, I had the best time and given the chickens know me best, I’m probably the best person to show them their new home, so let me help you.’
Teddy didn’t wait for the old man to answer, instead, he got out of the car, headed around to the drivers side and helped the old man pull the chicken box out. He was going to be helpful.
‘Bar hum bug.’ The old man said, under his breath.
Teddy couldn’t carry the chicken box by himself because it was too heavy, but he did what he could to help the old man, and was especially helpful getting them through the front door.
When Indie heard the car pull into the driveway, she’s watched the old man and Teddy get out of the car through the living room window. Peaking her head through the curtains, she could see everything from there.
Indie raced to the front door, listening for the key in the lock and looked up excitedly to see the old man and Teddy coming through the door, she started jumping up.
‘Stop it, Indie.’ The old man yelled.
She didn’t stop, she kept jumping.
They did their best to get in the door without Indie running through it and down the driveway.
Then she realised they had a box, she had a hunch there was something in there for her. It wasn’t your usual box because there were noises coming from it.
‘Get down.’ The old man yelled again.
With much difficulty, because of Indie jumping all over them, the old man and Teddy managed to get through the front door and put the chicken box on the kitchen bench.
‘Are they doing down into their hutch?’ Teddy asked the old man.
‘Nah, they’re a bit young for that. I’ll leave them in this for a few weeks, until they’re a bit bigger.’
‘Can they go outside for a run?’
‘I guess they can, but Indie will have to stay inside.’
Teddy spent the rest of his day with the chickens. He would occasionally go home to get some food but then he’d be right back again.
Whilst the old man didn’t want him there, he was actually no trouble, so he didn’t mind. Indie was the one that was bothered because she had to stay in the house so Teddy could play.
As the chicken grew, the old man moved them down into their chicken pen and the chicken run. He’d let them out each morning and put them to bed at night time. They were good chooks in the main. They knew their home and they always came back at night time.
The girls generally hung out together but from time to time Floppy would be somewhere on the farm wandering around by herself. She was always relatively close to the house, but she’d just do her own thing. Pecking away at ground, wandering down to the back fence. She was free.
Until the day she sat down and didn’t get back up again.
It was a Sunday morning and the old man had let the girls out a few hours earlier. He was in his kitchen and happened to look out the window and noticed Floppy nesting in the chicken run.
‘That’s odd’ he thought.
The chickens only nested in the run when they were locked in. During the day, they’d nest in the dirt up next to the house, where it was cooler and they had a bit of shade. Floppy didn’t have any shade where she was nesting.
The old man made his coffee and watched to see if Floppy moved.
She didn’t move.
As he drank his coffee and kept watching her, but she didn’t move. Even when one of the other girls came down to lay their egg, she didn’t get up.
He decided to check on her. Leaving Indie in the house, so as not to spook Floppy, he wandered down the back and walked into the chicken pen, she didn’t get up, she just looked at him.
The old man walked over to her and picked her up, she didn’t mind, he could have done anything with her, she wasn’t going anywhere.
She nestled into his arm and rested her head. She was tired.
The old man brought her up to the house, and sat her in the dirt that she loved to be in. She just sat there.
The other chickens just watched her.
The old man took her some water, which Floppy drank, but she didn’t get up, she just sat there.
The old man brought her a handful of grain, but she just looked away, she didn’t eat, it was too hard for her.
The old man left her to sit there and got on with his day, checking on her from time to time, but she didn’t move. What did happen was the other chickens started pecking at her, still she didn’t move.
That wasn’t a good sign.
Chickens can be vicious, they attack the weaker of the pack and it can be deadly. The old man didn’t want that.
The old man nearly jumped out of his skin, shouting ‘AGGGHHHH’ as he turned around to see Teddy.
‘Jeepers kid, you nearly gave me a heart attack!’
‘Sorry,’ Teddy said, genuinely sorry, he didn’t mean to scare the old man.
‘Is Floppy ok?’ Teddy asked.
‘I don’t know.’ The old man said.
‘What’s going on with her?’
‘She’s just been nesting and won’t get up.’
‘That can be normal though, right?’ Teddy said hopefully.
‘Yeah it can, but it also might not be.’ The old man was careful about what he said to Teddy, he didn’t want to upset him or worry him when maybe Floppy was just having a moment and she’d be fine again tomorrow.
‘Can I pick her up?’
‘Yeah, go for it, she’d like that.’ The old man said encouragingly to Teddy.
Teddy walked over and gently picked up Floppy, she didn’t mind, she nestled into his arms and rested, she was tired.
They sat like that, pretty much, for the rest of the day. Occasionally, the old man would bring water over to Floppy and she’d drink that, and he’d cut up some cucumber, and she nibbled on that, but in the main she didn’t eat, she just slept.
The old man decided to keep her in the house, so he put some straw in the chicken box, the one they’d first picked the chickens up in, added some water and cut up watermelon, which Floppy loved, she tucked into that.
The watermelon was sweet and wet, just what she needed.
When Teddy left that afternoon, he had a tear in his eye. He looked up at the old man and said ‘will she be ok?’
The old man didn’t know, he hoped so but he was worried about Floppy. ‘I don’t know,’ he said, ‘but’ and he smiled at Teddy, ‘we’re doing everything we can to look after her.’
‘Yeah we are.’ Teddy said.
Teddy wanted to keep an eye on Floppy, so he asked the old man, ‘Can I come back before school in the morning, to check on Floppy?’
The old man sighed. He didn’t know if it would be a good idea, but he said ‘yeah, I guess that’s ok.’
Teddy gave Floppy one last pat, whispering ‘I love you Floppy,’ and headed home.
Floppy didn’t move much over the next day or so. She’d occasionally have a drink or eat some more watermelon, but most of the time she’d sleep.
The old man thought it was funny seeing her eyelids close from the bottom up, ‘the things you learn,’ he thought.
He’d check on her every hour or so, putting her outside during the day, giving her time in the soil, hoping Mother Nature would help her heal, and Teddy would come and visit every morning and afternoon.
On Tuesday morning, when Floppy hadn’t eaten much and was sleeping more and more, the old man looked at Floppy, and patting her he said ‘It’s ok to go Floppy, thank you for being my chicken.’
Later that day, just before Teddy was due to get off his school bus, the old man was in his kitchen when he heard a shudder down the hallway.
‘Floppy,’ he thought.
He moved slowly down the hallway into his laundry. It was beautiful and sad all at the same time. Floppy was slumped over, her head down and he watched as she took her last, slow breaths.
‘Thank you Floppy.’ He said.
He wasn’t ready to move her, he just stood and watched her for a little while, patting her feathers. He was sad.
Teddy looked inside the laundry door and he saw the old man. He was sad, standing still, patting Floppy. Teddy knew she’d died and tears rolled down his face.
He stood there not knowing what to do. He’d never lost a chicken before. In fact, he’d never had anyone die, so he just stood there.
He noticed the old man had seen him and was sliding the door open. Teddy looked up at the old man, they didn’t need to speak, they were both sad and they both knew she’d died. As the old man walked out the door, Teddy flung his arms around the old man’s waist and wept.
Later that day, they carried the box down to the back fence, where they’d dug a hole for Floppy. They picked up her body and put her in the hole with some chicken feed, just in case she was hungry, wherever she was going.
They filled the hole with soil and put a log on top, to make sure Indie (or any other animal) didn’t dig her up.
The old man and Teddy both shed a tear, as Teddy bravely said, ‘Bye Floppy, you were my second favourite.’
The old man laugh, Teddy said the funniest things.
‘Come on,’ he said, picking up his shovel, put his arm around Teddy and they headed back to the house.
The old man closed his eyes, it had been a hard day.
‘Thank you Floppy,’ he thought, ‘thank you.’